Filaments & telephone lines

Filaments & telephone lines

A potential alternate title for this post: talking myself out of post-book-launch blues.

Yesterday, as I was troubleshooting on various book-related fronts, I started wondering if “troubleshooting” was another of the military metaphors that colonize my vocabulary (“front” is one). The original meaning of troubleshooting, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was a pleasant surprise. Here’s the first usage in print: “1905, Strand Mag.: ‘A good looking young ‘trouble-shooter’—as a mender of telephone lines is called—had asked her to marry him.’” Whoa! It’s a COMMUNICATIONS metaphor!

There have been plenty of broken connections lately, so after an initial high, I’m struggling to focus on the good stuff. Appearing at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last weekend, for example, was lucky and lovely (it’s a pretty interesting festival, too, with a political flavor). Early readers have been generous–I so appreciate every thoughtful note. None of that, though, stopped my spirits crashing. Maybe that was inevitable after logistical hairiness and physical stress (the festival was outdoors with 95 degree temperatures, plus my Achilles tendinitis flared up). The turning point mood-wise was a paradoxical one. Seeing Poetry’s Possible Worlds amid the many, many books Politics & Prose was selling was great, but it also reminded me how many, many authors are trying to get attention for their book-babies. I do have a strong core of confidence that my book is a very good one. But it’s increasingly clear to me that while I’m working harder than ever to get word out, in addition to investing money in a publicist for the first time, Poetry’s Possible Worlds is unlikely to stand out in the mob. Placing “Brave Words” on the Poets & Writers website was a glorious win, but each successful connection has 10 failed attempts behind it–magazine pitches, event queries, and other efforts that mostly don’t even get replies. I keep throwing out filament, filament, filament (sorry, changing metaphors here to Whitman’s spider), but I suspect I need to rewire my hopes as well. After all, twenty years ago, I longed to reach any audience at all, feeling increasingly hopeless about ever publishing a creative book. Here I am, after so many successes, doing that tiresome thing: training my vision on the next line of mountains.

Troubleshooting Monday involved updating various websites, including improving the book’s Goodreads listing. I finally figured out how to get the cover to appear, yay!, but can’t seem fix the issue on Amazon, and it’s such a handsome cover. I can’t get it to appear on Bookshop.org at all. How much does each of those little efforts even matter? I don’t know. I managed to settle myself down, though, by putting up a couple of reviews for other indie books. Helping other writers feels better, sometimes, than trying to boost your own signal.

So here’s a public service reminder: OF COURSE I want you to buy small-press books, including mine. Sales matter most to visibility; attention snowballs if a book flies off shelves. But there are other ways to help authors:

  • order their books for your library
  • post reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, or other places readers frequent
  • use social media and blogs to celebrate books you appreciate
  • recommend them to your friends and bookclubs
  • if you teach, consider whether you could adopt a few small-press books for your classes (bonus: a lot of us are happy to Zoom in and talk to students)
  • focus any formal reviews you write on indie authors and place them as visibly as you can (I know, I don’t have time to do many of these either)

I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted, but it’s worth reminding myself, too. As many before me have said, seeing the publishing struggle as a competitive game gets toxic. Whenever I can reframe it in terms of community, or appreciate writing and reading as gifts rather than commodities, I feel saner. I just struggle with the balance, knowing I owe it to my book, too–and the former me who labored for a decade to get it right–to help it find audiences.

Troubleshooting Monday also involved fixing flights and lodging, because we’re going to BUDAPEST on Thursday, if the pandemic gods are willing (lots of flight cancelations and a high rate of Covid transmission in Virginia). The plan is to spend several days in Budapest, where my son has been studying math this winter and spring. We’re so excited to see him as well as a city we’ve never visited. Then VENICE for four nights, where my daughter will join us and my husband is speaking at a comics symposium. Pretty lucky, right? This blog is therefore on hiatus for a couple of weeks, because (literally and metaphorically) I’m flying “economy light” and not bringing my laptop. Maybe THAT will mend my brain, even if I’m not the young good-looking media star kind of troubleshooter.


7 responses to “Filaments & telephone lines”

  1. I was going to order straight from your publisher, but they’ve suspended postage to New Zealand, so I just hopped on to Amazon and ordered – Lesley, the blurb/product description makes it sound AMAZING. The fusion of memoir-essay and poetry critique has already got my heart clapping like castanets. I’m so looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

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